Subversion of enlightenment discourse in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Arts
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
The Enlightenment era saw the rise in popularity of an epistemology that valued fact and reason due, largely, to the evolution of scientific knowledge. This resulted in an epistemological shift that emphasised reason and fact and gave rise to new forms of discourse. These discourses influenced the development of several genres that were simultaneously being formed through the growth of literary criticism and were disseminated through a booming literary market. Genres such as travel writing, journalism, historiography, and scientific writing possessed particular codes which gave the impression of truth through their presumed embodiment of fact and reality. These new ‘realistic’ discourses produced the impression of facticity, truthfulness, and authenticity through the use of statistics, geometry, measurements, verisimilitude, objectivity, reason, reportage language, and the scientific method. To many of the contemporary readers these discourses were the quintessence of truth, a perception created through the emergence of science’s new systems of knowledge that also reconceptualised representations of truth, fact, and reality. Gulliver’s Travels, published by Jonathan Swift in 1726, is a work of literature that inverts the relationship these epistemologies and discourses seek to establish with truth. The Travels uses some of the newly created techniques for writing factually that appeared in these genres and combines them with an imagined, fantastic, satirically exorbitant fantasy. Satiric prose entangles, entwines, and thereby inverts these linguistic codes of realism and fact through a radically fantastic fictional performance. The satire of Gulliver’s Travels juxtaposes reality with fantasy, converges the values of the scientific epistemology of factual truth with works of pure imagination, and makes the truth far stranger than fiction. Through the Travels’ parody, unreliable narration, juxtaposition, and satire’s own fundamental paradox of reality and fantasy the ability of these discourses to inevitably signify ‘truth’ is subverted. Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels provides a commentary on the popular discourses of reality and facticity present in his context of the early eighteenth-century as he question’s this discourse’s relationship to ‘truth’.
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